Expo Park and Deep Ellum Residents Made It Very Clear How They Feel About Low-Income Housing Development

Last night, at that public hearing we previewed about yesterday, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs heard feedback on some applications for Competitive Housing Tax Credits from around the state. And, as expected, a large contingent -- numbering around 50 -- showed up to literally stand up and be counted in opposition to one proposed plan to bring permanent supportive housing to Commerce and Willow Streets near Exposition Park.

As planned, the EVERgreen Residences | 3800 Willow would be a 100-unit, single-room occupancy-slash-residential hotel designed to provide permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless and other individuals with similarly low or restricted incomes.

"This type of residential housing, we don't oppose," said Ken Maxwell of Exposition Park Association to the near-capacity crowd of approximately 175 people gathered in the Central Library auditorium. "We actually want this kind of housing, and think it should be a part of Dallas.

"However, this is not the neighborhood for that kind of housing," he continued. "Across the street from a gallery? Next door to 500X? Adjacent to the Santa Fe Trail? This is not where you put this type of housing."

Maxwell's rousing speech earned cheers and applause from the packed house. After he wrapped up, he handed TDHCA program specialist Elizabeth Henderson a stack of letters in opposition to EVERgreen Residences.

Following the hearing, Henderson -- who was charged with recording and compiling the public's comments for or against the applications -- told us that getting a group of 50 to support or oppose any application was a "pretty good showing." She told Unfair Park that she's seen otherwise qualified projects get a thumbs-down from the state based on public opposition alone. Based on the public outcry voiced last night, it appears the developers will have their PR work cut out for them.

And there is a significant amount of public opposition brewing so far. "For such short notice, I think it's great that so many people showed up," said Double-Wide's owner Kim Finch. "We just found out about this yesterday."

Before the meeting, I drove over to the proposed site on Willow Street -- and as soon as I'd parked my car and pulled out my camera, Kelly Barnett approached me asking if I was a reporter covering the story.

"I've lived at the [Mitchell Lofts] for 6 years," she said. "And this just seems like a bad idea to me." Especially, she said, after the city and "Laura Miller worked so hard to make this area safer."

Kim Finch was one of the several gallery, club and bar owners who, along with Deep Ellum and Expo Park residents, turned up for last night's hearing. Most had only learned of the event and the planned EVERgreen Residences earlier that day via social networking sites. Many of those who showed up last night were hoping to learn more about the project, but there wasn't a presentation by reps for the developers. Or the city.

As presented in February to the city's Housing Committee, the project would provide "100 efficiency units for households below 30% area median family income," which sounds a little different that the homeless-housing described in the 381-page application filed with TDHCA. The proposed $15-million project is applying for $1,151,210 in tax credits from the state, as well as a loan of $4 million from the city.

The development is co-sponsored by First Presbyterian Church of Dallas/Stewpot, which will be the service provider, with Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan signed on as one of the partners in the application. We've left messages with both Buchanan and Graham Greene, the project's developer, but we've yet to hear back.

Following the hour-long hearing, Ken Maxwell told us, "I think it went well." And he said he wanted to reiterate that the Exposition Park Association isn't opposed to shelters or "this kind of housing projects."

"We just don't think that this fits into the whole creative ecosystem that is developing in Deep Ellum and Exposition Park," Maxwell said.

"The next step is to take all the comments back and present them to the board of directors," Henderson said while flipping through a stack of inked-up feedback forms. (If you weren't able to attend the meeting, you'll have until 5 p.m on June 15 to submit your comments to the addresses we provided yesterday.) "We'll have the final results, and they'll be presented at the July board meeting."

About an hour after attending the hearing, Michael Scheel, owner of The Amsterdam Bar, was perched on a stool in his Exposition Avenue establishment. He said the only reason he didn't get up to speak himself was that he didn't feel he had enough advance information on the project.

But after the hearing, he had plenty to say.

"I have a fundamental problem with this because I don't see how putting the chronically homeless -- some of them have been in and out of prison -- into an area so close to all the drugs and alcohol that's available down here," he said. "Drugs, alcohol and homeless together is always a problem."

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